As you can read it on the About page, my spiritual name is Sākṣi or Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa. Maybe this name seems a little strange to many of you. Therefore, in this post I would like to shed some light on it. I try to explain it in simple terms, however, be warned that you must be quite open minded to understand what comes if you are not familiar with vedic philosophy, theology and culture.
Actually, the full name is Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa, Sākṣi is just the short version of it, a nickname. This name comes from the Sanskrit language, which is not written originally by Latin letters, but in Devanāgarī script. In Devanāgarī, Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa looks like this: साक्षिगोपाल दास. There are several methods of transliteration from Devanāgarī to the Roman or Latin script, here I use the IAST scheme. That explains the interesting accents.
If we translate it to English, it means the servant (Dāsa) of the eyewitness (Sākṣi) cowherd boy (gopāla). Now it seems even more strange, doesn’t it? Well, I can explain it, at least I can try.
The cowherd boy and the servant
Cowherd boy refers to none other than God. In the ancient vedic literature of India it is written that the Absolute Truth is a person, the Supreme Person, God. He has many forms, but His original form is Kṛṣṇa, who is a very beautiful, all-attractive cowherd boy and He lives in Vṛndāvana. Who could refute this? This is beyond the sense-organs, beyond logic, this is revealed knowledge.
Dāsa means servant. So, the name has two parts. The first part is a name of God, the second part is servant. In general terms it means the servant of God. Everyone is a servant of God, if we know it or not, accept it or not. We can have some abilities, some knowledge, some properties, but what we have, we have got those things from God, we haven’t created them, and we can lose them, God can take them back anytime. Even our own bodies. God created everything what is there. He is the owner of everything, and He is the Supreme Controller. He provides these things to us so that we can use them to serve Him. We can offer what we have to God, but actually He doesn’t need those things. He is the owner of those things already. What He needs is our love. He accepts our love, our devotion when we offer something to Him, and He reciprocates.
Why is this cowherd boy an eyewitness? There is a story from which we can understand it. However, before sharing the story some concepts should be explained.
In the traditional vedic social system there were four occupational divisions or varṇas: learned and pure intellectuals (brāhmaṇa), administrators or soldiers (kṣatriya), merchants or farmers (vaiśya) and laborers (śūdra). In the story the two main characters will be brāhmaṇas.
In the vedic tradition God is worshipped in many ways. One of the most important methods is worshipping God in the temple in His Deity form. There are detailed descriptions in the vedic literature how should the Deity form of God look like, how to make it and so on. It can be made from different material elements, for example metal or stone.
When a Deity form is ready, then there is a ceremony during which brāhmaṇas ask God to accept that form so that the devotees can worship Him through it. After God has accepted the form, it is no longer a material form, it is God Himself, they are not different. The Deity reciprocates with everybody according to their spiritual level. Those who are materialists, they see only a stone statue, those who are advanced spiritually, they can see that the Deity is God Himself. The Deity even talks to them, and they can see when the Deity moves, and performs His pastimes. There are many stories in the vedic literature about Deities, how they manifested themselves to advanced devotees. The following story is also like that, it is from the book called Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.
“Once there were two brāhmaṇas, one elderly and the other young, who were inhabitants of a place known as Vidyānagara. After touring many places of pilgrimage, the two brāhmaṇas finally reached Vṛndāvana. The elderly brāhmaṇa was very satisfied with the service of the young brāhmaṇa, and he wanted to offer him his youngest daughter in marriage. The young brāhmaṇa received the promise of his elder before the Gopāla Deity of Vṛndāvana. Thus, the Gopāla Deity acted as a witness.
When the two brāhmaṇas returned to Vidyānagara, the younger brāhmaṇa raised the question of this marriage, but the elderly brāhmaṇa, due to obligations to his friends and wife, answered that he could not remember his promise. Because of this, the younger brāhmaṇa returned to Vṛndāvana and narrated the whole story to Gopālajī. Thus Gopālajī, being obliged by the young man’s devotional service, accompanied him to southern India. Gopālajī followed the younger brāhmaṇa, who could hear the tinkling sound of Gopālajī’s ankle bells. When all the respectable gentlemen of Vidyānagara were assembled, Gopālajī testified to the promise of the elderly brāhmaṇa. Thus, the marriage was performed. Later, the king of that country constructed a fine temple for Gopāla.”Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta,
Madhya-līlā, Chapter Five. This is a summary of the story, the full story is available in the online Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.
How did I get this name?
The last question I have to answer is: How did I get this name? To answer this, first I quote a verse from Bhavagad-gītā (Chapter Four, verse 34), the most famous and most important book in the vedic literature:
तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.
Based on this principle, everyone who wants to get spiritual knowledge should approach a spiritual master, a guru. When the spiritual master accepts someone as his disciple, he initiates her or him. This means that the disciple takes vows, promises that she or he will follow the instructions of the guru, and the guru also takes the responsibility of guiding the disciple in spiritual life. During the initiation ceremony the spiritual master gives a name to the disciple, because the initiation is like a new birth. This is how I got the name Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa, my spiritual master gave it to me, out of his mercy.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda
My spiritual master is also a disciple, and his spiritual master too, and so on. In this way, the succession of gurus and disciples creates a disciplic succession which goes back to God, because the first spiritual master was God, of course. God gave perfect knowledge to His disciple and he gave it to his disciples without any modification, so it remained perfect and so on right up to our present times. The disciplic succession guarantees that the knowledge is not modified and remains perfect. The spiritual master of my spiritual master was a very significant and outstanding guru. He was His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
In 1965, at the age of sixty-nine, he left India and in the following twelve years he circled the globe 14 times on lecture tours spreading the teachings of Lord Kṛṣṇa, established temples, farm communities, a publishing house, and educational institutions around the world. He began what has now become the world’s largest vegetarian food relief program, Hare Krishna Food for Life. He authored over 70 volumes on the Kṛṣṇa tradition, which are highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, fidelity to the tradition, and clarity. His writings have been translated into 76 languages. His most prominent works include Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, the 30-volume Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and the 17-volume Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.